DOL releases funding to expand apprenticeship and work-based learning

July 18, 2018

Earlier today, DOL announced the availability of $150 million in Scaling Apprenticeship Through Sector-Based Strategies grants to support partnerships between institutions of higher education and business associations’ work to expand apprenticeship and work-based learning in in-demand fields. The solicitation includes a strong focus on sector-based, industry-driven strategies that can expand business’ capacity to run work-based learning programs and diversify and broaden the pipeline of workers with access to and success in these programs.

Successful applicants will be eligible for $1-$12 million over four years and DOL anticipants funding up to thirty partnerships to support programs in IT, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services and educational services. Each applicant will identify goals of serving between 800-5,000 apprentices, depending on the amount of funding for which they will apply.

The solicitation today follows a 2017 Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeship in which the President tasked DOL with implementing a new system of industry recognized apprenticeships, in part by allocating funds under the H-1B visa account to support this expansion consistent with today’s solicitation. The EO also tasked DOL, Department of Education and Department of Commerce with convening a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. Meeting over the past year, the Task Force was comprised of Governors, business leaders, and representatives from industry associations, labor and community college. Their work culminated in a report to the President earlier this year with recommendations on expanding apprenticeship, reiterating the call for using H-1B funds to support this expansion.

In building on the EO and Task Force’s recommendations, today’s solicitation includes several critical allowable uses of funds consistent with NSC prioritiesbuilding partnerships to lower barriers to apprenticeship expansion for small and mid-sized companies, collecting data and measuring impacts of programs to ensure quality, providing support services like childcare and transportation that can improve success for a diverse pipeline of workers, funding pre-apprenticeship programs that can be a key onramp to apprenticeship for low-skill and underrepresented populations and upskilling incumbent workers.

The solicitation would require grants to go to partnerships between institutions of higher education (IHEs) and national industry associations or consortia of businesses. IHEs are crucial partners in apprenticeship programs and NSC released a report earlier today on the importance of supporting partnerships between community colleges and industry representatives. And while apprenticeship is certainly one program on which these partnerships can collaborate, NSC advocates for support for partnerships with a wide range of skills training goals.

While crucial partners, higher education should be among numerous entities – including industry associations themselves, the workforce system, labor-management partnerships and community-based organizations – eligible for future funding to support the expansion of apprenticeships. Under the bipartisan PARTNERS Act, states would grant funding to local industry partnerships comprised of representatives from industry and education providers together with the workforce system, labor-management partnerships and other community partners. Today’s solicitation is consistent with the PARTNERS Act – and a strong first step in expanding local, robust, industry-driven partnerships that support work-based learning – but leaves room for further expanding the partners represented in these partnerships.

The solicitation also applies a definition of apprenticeship previewed in the Task Force on Apprenticeship’s report to the president which is likely to be the definition the administration continues to apply to Industry Recognized Apprenticeship. Under the definitions, programs would qualify for funding (and qualify as an “apprenticeship”) if they include the following components:

  1. Paid work-based component
  2. On-the-job training and mentorship
  3. Training-related instruction
  4. Culminating in an industry-recognized credential
  5. And including safety, supervision and EEO protections

This is a relatively robust definition that includes most of the components for which NSC, and our partners, have advocated. It certainly meets the definition we’ve advocated for work-based learning. It misses an important component that often distinguishes apprenticeship from other work-based learning programs, however – that a worker earns increases in wages as their skills increase. This wage and skill progression provides a predictable path for both workers and businesses at the foundation of apprenticeship.

Today’s solicitation comes in the lead up to a White House convening on job training, scheduled for Thursday July 19th. At least 15 business leaders, along with numerous other industry representatives and policy makers, will join the President as he signs an Executive Order on job training and are expected to announce a set of commitments to training workers. The Executive Order will direct agency leadership to form an inter-agency working group focused on job training, the National Council for the American Worker. It will also create an advisory committee for the administration comprised of representatives from businesses, postsecondary education, state policy makers and the philanthropic community.

Both strategies are consistent with NSC priorities, and we look forward to working with representatives in both capacity.

Given the administration’s calls to drastically cut workforce programs and a proposal last month to consolidate the Departments of Education and Labor, the administration’s continued focus on consolidating workforce programs raises concerns, however. Congress has rejected the administration’s proposals, providing much need funding increases for many workforce and education programs last year, and local and state workforce systems continue to implement innovative, industry-driven programming.

NSC will continue to work with partners across the country and policy makers to support expanded access to work-based learning – including apprenticeship – and to ensure continued support for vital workforce and education programs that help meet business demand and worker need.